Do Chinese fans prefer traditional football clubs?

According to Dr Simon Chadwick, a British academic who has studied the popularity of English football in Asia, there is no substitute for history in the eyes of Chinese fans who appear to regard English Premiership champion, Chealsea FC, as an upstart among more august company. “The difficulty for Chelsea is that there is so much brand equity in history,” Dr Chadwick, of Birkbeck College’s Sports Business Centre, told Kevin Eason of The Times. “Chelsea might be ambitious and have aspirations to be the world’s biggest club, but they are still the new kids on the block in global terms, a long way behind Manchester United and Real Madrid in the Chinese market particularly. Chelsea can sign big-name players and raise their profile, but history is built up over decades and they cannot create that.”

Dr Chadwick added: “Football is often talked about as the most popular sport in China, but basketball is huge there and Formula One is attracting attention. Chelsea are not just competing against Manchester United or Real Madrid but against many other sports and brand names also looking for the same money. Peter Kenyon may have to wait a long time before Chelsea is the biggest name in sport in China because they have so much ground to make up. But they do seem to have a long-term strategy, unlike some other sports businesses — including big football clubs — that have used China for a smash-and-grab raid. It is a big job and Chelsea have a long way to go in China, which they have to conquer before they could call themselves the world’s biggest club.”

The Times article stated that the English Premier League "is the most-watched football in China, with 53 percent of all football fans tuning in, compared with 45 percent for China’s own league matches". It also quoted a survey of 400 Asian fans by Birkbeck College that discovered that 75 percent of those polled claimed to be Manchester United supporters with "only 13 Chelsea fans in the sample".